Fahrenheit 9/11

Reviewed By Josh Gryniewicz
Posted 07/05/04 07:16:10

"A ‘Provokumentary’, sure, that doesn’t change Moore’s grasp on the truth"
5 stars (Awesome)

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is not a documentary in the strictest sense of the term – it editorializes, it has an agenda, it conveys its theme in a mixed blend of fact and satire – but don’t think this is grounds to discredit the film. Moore’s films are to documentaries as creative non-fiction is to literature: they entertain as they educate, but in neither case does the form compromise the facts, which is more than can be said for most mainstream media outlets.

Those facts begin with the 2000 election: “Was it a dream?” Moore asks as the networks announce a win for Gore in Florida moments before Fox triggers a recant announcing that Bush takes the state. The film leads into the unprecedented inaugural procession where the presidential caravan punched the gas through an egg-throwing crowd forgoing the ceremonial stroll to the Whitehouse. A pre-credit gloss over the events of the election that Moore previously accounted as “A Very American Coup” in which 137,000 primarily African-American voters were stripped from the registry in Florida by the Republican funded Database Technologies. This segment sets the tone of the film, as congressional representatives of the disenfranchised contest the “scrub list” in their counties only to have such claims dismissed in the absence of a senate signature.

Credits roll juxtaposing opening titles with team Bush primping for the camera crews showing audiences Moore will not pull any punches, even if it means swinging below the belt. He shows the new President living it up on his Texas ranch, logging more vacation time in his early term than any other Commander in Chief in history, before he begins building his post-9/11 case for conspiracy and fear fueled manipulation of the American people. The events of 9/11 demonstrated first in audio to a tactfully blacked out screen, something far more effective than were he to use the traumatically exhausted footage of planes colliding into the WTC, than to the swirling clouds of debris and the pained images of victims. Drawing from investigative journalist Craig Unger’s "House of Bush, House of Saud" and set to REM’s “Shiny Happy People” "F9/11" demonstrates an elaborate cabal of oil motivated war and conspiratorial purchasing power wielded by two elite families – the Bush clan and Saudi Arabia’s Bin Laden royals (of Osama fame).

Moore devotes the first half of his film to tracing these shady connections through the corridors of power – here, he fancies himself a Jim Garrison of Oliver Stones’ "JFK" in a too – similar – to – not – be – homage scene where he stands across the street from the Saudi Embassy. “Who benefited…Who has the power to cover it up?” Moore answers with the Saudi’s $1.4 billion investment into Bush tied companies; he let’s the secret service officers who show up to ask what he’s doing answer the rest. He demonstrates the disastrous pre-9/11 cuts in counter-terrorist operations; the block of an independent investigation into the Sept. 11 bombing; the U.S. sanctioned exodus of suspects from the nation’s largest crime scene and the omission of pages identifying Saudi connections to the terrorists responsible.

Throughout this parade of evidence he shows the frightening reality of post-9/11 America, the compromises to our civil liberties through the Patriot Act which has law enforcement scouring internally for voices of dissent rather than opposing significant U.S. threats. All the while, Moore penetrates the “smoke & mirrors” of the Homeland Security fear racket driving up national levels of paranoia.

The material is powerful enough to stand on it’s own, but the injected Moore – isms and antics that have been entertaining fare in his two short-lived shows "The Awful Truth" & "TV Nation" are ill-suited here. For example, animating the Bush administration into Bonanza styled cowboys or driving the round–about in front of Congress reading the Patriot Act from an ice cream truck only weaken his argument. Moore is at his most effective when he allows the humor to play out for itself – in showing the absurdity of the Patriot Act’s overzealous applications (which has targeted non-violent protest organizations like Global Justice, Earth First, Greenpeace and the American Indian Movement) he finds the homeliest bunch of cookie-munching peace activists that have been infiltrated by law enforcement.

In its second half, the documentary brings home these charges showing the Iraq war not captured in the Cheney orchestrated media blackout of misleading “embedded journalists”, video game graphics, fossilized ranking military officers, Pentagon regulated PR and a premature “mission accomplished.” "F9/11" graphically bears witness to the civilian casualties throughout Iraq; the baby faced American soldiers bewildered by their experience; the rigorous recruiting of poor, lower class minorities and the grief experienced at the loss of a child. All of this building to the most amazing use of an Orwell quote ever plied. There is no way in which this film cannot evoke an overwhelming expression of grief, anger and sadness.

Michael Moore, self-styled flannel clad crusader of the working class, by his own admission is far more satirist than a journalist, but he has learned a lot since his 1989 "Roger & Me" Not only have his technical skills improved project after project ("Fahrenheit" is his strongest editing to date), but also his ability to put forth the issues at the center of the film rather than his image. Moore has been launched into position as a pop-culture icon, a rock and roll superstar of liberal progressive viewpoints and this has become the most prominent ground on which his staunchest critics have attacked. In addition to Hutchison, Isikoff & Hosenball’s inaccuracies regarding content, the coming year offers two documentaries launched against him; two websites have been devoted to discrediting his work and a book that actually charges he suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. Moore responds in kind with the sign that hung in the editing room: “When in doubt, cut me out.”

"F9/11" is not a masterpiece, nor is it my favorite Moore work. He treads far too lightly on the Democrats, while never actually plugging pro-war Kerry who seeks to send more troops to Iraq; he omits Clinton’s bombing campaign (which Gore would have continued) and tiptoes around some bigger issues. The fact that Iraq provides a geo-political foothold in the Middle East and that it is intimately tied to the struggle for Palestine is glaringly absent.

For all the controversy (Disney’s cold feet, Bradbury’s outrage at the title, a Right Wing PR group posing as a grassroots movement to bully theaters into refusing the film)– and for all the hype (winning Palm d’Or, MoveOn’s Left Wing grassroots organization posing as a PR firm) Moore delivers a film that surpasses expectation.

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